Law Foundation honours Elders’ Council for access to justice efforts

By John Chunn

Law360 Canada (February 10, 2021, 12:53 PM EST) -- The Law Foundation of Ontario announced that the Elders’ Council is the 2020 recipient of the Guthrie Award, the foundation’s signature award to recognize exceptional access to justice champions.

According to the foundation's press release, the Elders’ Council was established using Indigenous methodologies to support the work of the Indigenous Justice Division (IJD) of the Ministry of the Attorney General. The council holds positions for up to 13 Indigenous Elders who are Knowledge Keepers from across Ontario.

The Elders were approached to participate based on their personal leadership strengths and specialized knowledge. The council is gender-balanced and reflective of the diverse Indigenous Nations and regions of the province. The Elders’ Council is committed to supporting the reclamation of Indigenous legal systems and strengthening justice for Indigenous people in the province.

The Council works to guide the IJD and its staff in an effort to repair the relationship between the Ministry of the Attorney General and Indigenous communities within Ontario. “The Elders bring a compelling truth and integrity to their work,” says Linda Rothstein, the foundation’s board chair. “By sharing their knowledge and lived experiences directly with those within the justice sector, the Elders’ Council is helping to transform not just opinions but policies and laws that could bring about meaningful change and improve access to justice for Indigenous people across the province.”

Quite unprecedented in other jurisdictions, the Elders’ Council has provided formal advice directly to three attorneys general for Ontario, as well as to staff at all levels of government across various ministries and divisions.

The Elders’ Council also helped develop and co-facilitate Bimickaway, which is an award-winning, 17.5-hour Indigenous cultural competency training for justice sector workers. Bimickaway is an Anishinaabemowin word meaning “to leave footprints.” Participants consistently provide feedback that the Elders’ contributions are the most valuable and transformative part of the curriculum and help them understand the real-life and ongoing impact of the government laws and policies that are discussed in the training. Since 2016, over 5,900 people have completed the training and it has a long waiting list.